Several years ago as a nursing student, I took a class in spirituality; figuratively and literally. Through the University, I had Dr. Miron as an instructor. His hope was that we would not shy away from those conversations with patients that could deal with the bible, God or what lies beyond death. We had discussions in class about religion, and how that can play a key role in a patient’s care, especially palliative. Throughout the semester we took walks in the park, went to a cemetery and visited a catholic church. Through it all, I gained a greater appreciation for the fact that adapting to a patient’s views on spirituality and using it to start a dialogue can provide more comfort and hope. With those severely ill, it can truly make all the difference.
During my last year of nursing school, I did rotations in med surg, ICU and Hospice. Many patients whom I took care of touched me deeply but one added a special kindling to my experience. A very thin, middle-aged woman, who had the kindest demeanor, suffered through symptoms that had no answer. She spoke about her anxieties and family who had equal concerns. I can remember ensuring that as the hospital completed more diagnostic tests, I felt confident the issue would soon have answers.
A few weeks later I was assigned to her again. This time sad circumstances turned out and the illness had a terminal diagnosis. As I walked into the room, she smiled before beginning to cry. Unable to come up with any words to express how sorry I felt, I stood by the bed massaging her shoulder as she wept. Nothing prepared this woman for the news, her nightmare had come true. I noticed a bible on the nightstand and asked if reading scriptures seemed to help her get through. The stream of tears slowed as she took a deep breath and said that God continued to give her strength. Even though she didn’t want to die, she had confidence of something loving and great on the other side. A month went by and I had a clinical assignment at a hospice home. Again I cared for her, only this time she lay fragile, pale and unconscious with decreased respirations. Her husband sat in a chair holding her hand as I introduced myself. When I began to reposition her in bed an overwhelming feeling hit me and I asked if music would interfere with their moment together. He said no and even expressed that it would probably help because she loved music. Fortunately, I had my flute and received permission to play. After the last note, I looked and her face had turned from a grayish pale to rosy red. I’d like to think that she could hear me, the music soothing enough to bring a bit of tranquility and peacefulness.
Two days later she passed away, leaving the world with a strengthening faith that carried her through to the end. I don’t know what lies beyond but I can say that honoring and reinforcing my patient’s beliefs makes an impact. It can be the comforting factor that allows them to make peace within themselves, the vessel of hope that turns fear into anticipation.